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January 18, 2008

Orange, Wildcats both look to stay on track

MORE BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Upcoming SEC Games
Notre Dame at Georgetown
Villanova at Syracuse
Rutgers at DePaul
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Marquette at Connecticut
West Virginia at USF
Syracuse at Georgetown
Florida Gulf Coast at DePaul
Villanova at Rutgers
Louisville at USF
Pittsburgh at St. John's
Connecticut at Cincinnati
Marshall at West Virginia
Seton Hall at Providence

Best matchup: Villanova at Syracuse: This Saturday game features two possible NCAA Tournament teams that need to keep winning to stay off the bubble. Syracuse (13-5, 3-2 Big East), one of the last teams to miss the field last season, has an RPI of 30. But a loss to Villanova would drop the Orange's Big East record to 3-3 with a trip to Georgetown looming two nights later. Villanova (12-3, 2-2) needs to win on the road to avoid falling below .500 in conference play. Villanova is entering a dangerous portion of its schedule, as three of the Wildcats' next four games are on the road. Syracuse and Villanova have split their past 20 meetings.

The pressure is on: Notre Dame. The Irish (13-3, 3-1 Big East) have gotten off to a nice start in conference play, but their RPI of 49 indicates they still need to prove themselves on the road. The Irish lost 92-66 to Marquette last week in their only game so far this season on an opposing team's floor. Notre Dame goes on the road for its next two games: Saturday at Georgetown and Jan. 26 at Villanova. The Irish would seriously upgrade their NCAA Tournament credentials by winning at least one of those games, but they won't have a chance in either contest unless they play much better than they did at Marquette.

Upset alert: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati. We correctly forecasted Cincinnati's upset of Villanova last weekend, so why not go with the Bearcats again? A victory over Pitt would represent a much greater upset than last weekend's triumph over Villanova, but the elements still seem in place for a surprise. Cincinnati's 5-7 non-conference record puts the Bearcats (8-9, 3-2 Big East) in a virtual must-win situation every game if they want to earn an NCAA bid, and they've responded by knocking off Louisville, Syracuse and Villanova. Pitt remains at less than full strength and might be due for a letdown after Monday's big win over Georgetown. An upset here might not be probable, but it's certainly possible.

RPI watch: As of Thursday, the Big East had six teams with RPIs in the top 40: No. 5 Pittsburgh, No. 18 Marquette, No. 22 Georgetown, No. 29 West Virginia, No. 31 Providence and No. 36 Connecticut.

Key stat: Saturday's Notre Dame-Georgetown game could come down to the Irish's outside shooting. Notre Dame leads the Big East in 3-point field-goal percentage (41.6) and ranks second in 3-pointers made (132). Georgetown leads the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (.294).

Freshmen to watch: Pittsburgh forward DeJuan Blair collected 15 points and nine rebounds Monday while matching up with 7-footer Roy Hibbert in the Panthers' 69-60 victory over Georgetown. Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn's 24 points Wednesday in an 81-59 rout of Rutgers represented his most productive performance since a 28-point effort in a season-opening 97-89 victory over Siena. Syracuse forward Donte Greene had 19 points against Rutgers and has scored at least nine points in every game this season. Greene ranks third in the Big East at 18.9 points per game. Villanova forward Antonio Pena matched a career-high with 17 points Wednesday in a 76-69 victory over DePaul. Pena also had a career-high nine rebounds more than twice his season average against the Blue Demons.

Who's hot: Connecticut forward Jeff Adrien is averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds over his last four games. ... Georgetown center Roy Hibbert is averaging 16.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in his past three games. Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody has scored at least 22 points in four of his past five games. He also is averaging 11.8 rebounds per game over his past four contests. Pitt's Blair is averaging 14.8 points and 11.8 rebounds over his past four games. And Panthers guard Keith Benjamin is averaging 17 points per game in his past five contests. Benjamin had scored in double figures just twice all season before this stretch. Providence guard Dwain Williams is averaging 19.5 points per game over his last two contests after coming back from an ankle injury that sidelined him for four games. Williams had scored a total of 16 points in the four games before his injury knocked him out of action. USF's Kentrell Gransberry has five double-doubles in his past six games. Syracuse forward Arinze Onuaku has shot 75.9 percent (63-for-83) in his past 10 games. He is shooting 68 percent from the floor this season and entered the week ranked third in the nation in field-goal percentage.

Who's not: Cincinnati center Adam Hrycaniuk is 1-of-11 in his past three games. Georgetown forward DaJuan Summers went scoreless after missing all seven of his shots Monday against Pittsburgh. Summers is 3-of-16 in his past two games. ... St. John's guard/forward D.J. Kennedy has shot 4-for-17 in his last three games.

Worth noting: Marquette guard Dominic James aggravated a wrist injury Thursday while scoring a season-low three points in a 71-51 loss to Louisville. ... West Virginia's 81-61 victory over Syracuse on Sunday marked the first time Bob Huggins and Jim Boeheim had coached against each other. Notre Dame scored 64 second-half points Tuesday in a 91-74 victory over Cincinnati, which represented the highest point total in half of a regulation game during Mike Brey's eight-year coaching tenure. The Irish trailed 34-27 at halftime. Connecticut entered Thursday with an NCAA-leading 9.3 blocks per game. Five Big East school entered the week ranked among the nation's top 22 teams in blocks: Connecticut, No. 12 Syracuse, No. 18 Louisville, No. 20 Rutgers and No. 22 West Virginia. Villanova's 76-69 triumph over DePaul on Wednesday marked the second time this season the Wildcats had won a game after trailing by at least 16 points. Villanova rallied from a 21-point deficit to beat LSU 68-67 last month.

MORE BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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